Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Fascinating Terracotta Warriors

We awoke early to meet with our driver for the day. She and her husband were regular drivers for The Library Project. We had the wife of the duo that day and she was a hoot. She didn't speak a lick of English, and our Mandarin was really poor to horribly poor, but that didn't stop her from talking for about 30 minutes solid to us... we just kept smiling and nodding. Once we arrived at the site of the famed Terracotta Army on the grounds of the absolutely massive mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor we found a wonderful English speaking guide who worked for the museum there. She was extremely knowledgeable, friendly, patient, and only cost us 100rmb which given the service was a bargain. Without her guidance, I'm not sure we would have gotten nearly as much out of the visit. The active archeological site is broken up into four main buildings. Three are buildings built around the massive pits where the warriors are being uncovered and the fourth is a museum. It is difficult to try and describe with a few words how massive some of this stuff is...

The first and largest pit, which is a hanger-like structure is a dwarfing open 16,000sq. meters, (that's over 52,000sq. feet)! The warriors are arranged by rank, and are all hand-crafted and truly unique, and not just in the "oh, one eyebrow is slightly different from the next because of hand imperfections", they are all different shapes and sizes, ranks. Some brave, some hungry, some tall, some short, and all shattered into thousands of fragments that archeologists pour countless hours gluing carefully back into their original form.

With some of the newer excavation, they have found ways of preserving what is really fantastic coloring of each figure. We all see the images and imagine that they were always that gray-ish hue, but actually they were all artistically painted in vibrant colors that with new technology we are all finally able to appreciate. Only a few parts have been treated with this new technique, and hopefully any new additional digging will net some even more spectacular works. Another surprising thing was that there were several other things other than warriors buried in the various pits including very intricate bronze chariots detailed to the point of having articulating parasols, rare birds, and other curious-at-the-time animals.

The site was found by accident, as most of these things usually are, by a group of farmers digging a well. One of those farmers, Yang Junpeng, is still living and the museum employs him which I thought was really cool! We got a picture of him signing the really nice little book we purchased there.

Once we got back into Xi'an, we met back up with Tom and took in the bizarrely white "fog" that surrounds the city from his high-rise in the corner of the city. I say "fog" because there was a very curious moment which made us a bit careful about calling it what it was, pollution from the massive coal burning operations. The government has done a fantastic job portraying the city as fogy, and the population, not having been exposed to actual fog was none-the-wiser. When we were describing San Francisco as cool from the fog, we got confused expressions from the people we were talking to, and had to recover by explaining that our fog in San Francisco, is "cool" fog... not like their "warm" fog... It was a little strange, but in the end, we didn't want to offend anyone. We were cautioned by our friend Tom that many people in China tend to take negative discussions about the country, even if they had no hand or control over it, very personally... but let me say, that "fog" is brutal on the body. Each and every day, we would go to bed with burning eyes, lungs that ached, and would wake up with sore throats. Tom goes to the doctor regularly just to see if he is sick because the regular symptoms are the same as having a rough chest cold so he can't be too sure! Crazy but true!

There was a great treat when walking back through town was to go through a local park. The park was full of apparatus for exercise and stretching, populated by many middle-aged and elderly folks keeping fit. It made me wonder if our culture here in America would ever adopt having jungle gym equipment built for adults in the parks in stead of all of the things being meant for young children... There were also several ping-pong tables set up outside which really got my attention. I watched for a few minutes when one really friendly fellow walked over and chatted us up practicing his English. Sensing my interest, he asked if I'd be willing to play a little. Tom and Kerry were both tired and I think not really very interested in getting their clocks cleaned on the tables, but even if I was doomed to failure, I couldn't pass up the rare opportunity, so I agreed. One nice guy let me borrow his paddle and spot at a table and while I certainly didn't take every point, (we broke even), there was one specific set up and slam that got a lot of smiles and head shakes from the old timers which really made me happy. It was great fun to play outside, and if I hadn't been so zonked from spending all day at the terracotta grounds, I would have played all day!

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